The Dead Zone, Flash Fiction Challenge

Dust kicked up as the first tourists headed down the stretch to Ma Winter’s homestead. The sky teased puffs of white, though no rain would fall today. Emma Winter stared cautiously at the rental, its driver weaving, unsure at the wheel. As long as she didn’t veer from the road, it was no matter to her. Money is money, no matter the source.

A few plump women extracted themselves from the metal beast, already sweating under the morning sun. Age did not discriminate, her mother always told her. “An’ once ye reach my age,” she could her mother’s voice, “it’s the sweats. We all get the sweats.”

The darker haired of the two inspected a few green baskets of berries, while the other placed her gaze upon Emma. Tis the price for working the Dead Zone, Emma thought. As long as she doesn’t take pictures, I’ll be fine.

“It’s going to be a scorcher today,” said the second woman.

Emma suppressed a smile, noticing the woman’s fiery hair, the unevenness of the sheen likely a home job. Vanity was a puzzle to her; most who chased it missed the mark. This middle aged customer was no exception.

“Mmm hmm,” replied Emma, awaiting the next bit.

“You must get so hot, being Ay-mish and all. During the summer, I mean.”

The copper headed woman smiled at Emma, missing the awkwardness of her attempt to connect, along with misunderstanding her faith. No, she wasn’t Amish. Hers was a different calling. Still, she had to admit she looked the part; handmade cotton dress, white apron, and a simple head covering. Her outfit was born of necessity not mandate; it comfortably shielded her fair skin from the sun.

“The berries were picked this morning. Only a few dollars a pint,” said Emma.

“Cash, right?” asked the brunette, looking up.

Emma nodded.

“Alright, I’ll take four.”

Emma took the cash, while the copper headed one pulled a short brochure from her purse.

“Take this,” she said, thrusting the small pamphlet into Emma’s strong, thin fingers.

As she did so, Emma noticed a few gaudy rings on the stranger’s manicured sausages. A sale is a sale. The quicker I take it, the sooner they’ll depart.

“You can read, can’t you?” the woman asked as she turned back from the rental. “Well, I’m sure one of your men can read it to you. Have a blessed day!”

Emma stifled her anger. In the distance more dust swirled, gravel crunched. There would be more today. There were always more.

Once the last green basket of berries left, another few bills gained, Emma wiped off the white plastic folding table with an old rag and headed into the house for lunch. Storming into the kitchen her brother Thaddaeus looked up, his mouth full of fresh bread and strawberry jam.

“It’s women’s work to labor in the Dead Zone,” he said, winking at her. “Besides, you know the real reason you work out there. You sell better ‘an most.”

Emma sighed. Her brother was right. Anytime he took a place at the stand, there was always money left on the table.

“I got this today,” she said, handing him the pamphlet.

“You read it?”

“No, not yet,” she answered, retying her cotton scarf in an effort to collect several loose strands of dark hair. “Besides, the Dead One said you’ll have to read it to me.”

“Read it to you?”

“She thinks the women who live here can’t read.” Emma scoffed. “Or maybe we need permission? I dunno.”

Thaddaeus shook his head then grabbed the paper from his sister. Scanning the words, he laughed.

“She wants to convert us. I’m not exactly sure what religion she’s selling, but whatever it is looks like it comes with a side of guilt. There’s nothing wrong with that.” Emma looked at her brother, confused. “I mean nothing wrong with her thinking of others. I’m sure she had good intentions. Burn it with the rest.”

Emma grabbed the pamphlet, scrawled a few marks on it and lit it, tossing it into the fireplace to burn out.

“Well, I wouldn’t be too harsh,” he said.

“Pfft.”

Emma crossed her arms and moved her gaze to the window over the sink. The herbs lining the sill were starting to wilt in the sunlight, so she moved them.

“Emma, the Dead Ones need love and light just as much as we do. Maybe working the Dead Zone isn’t right for you. I’ll talk with Summer and get her to switch. She should be in for lunch soon.”

“They think judgement, hate, and shame are virtues!” said Emma. “That their way is the only way to live! Light shines on all of us. Nature calls to all of us. But they won’t hear it, they refuse to feel it. And day after day, we sell to these people who live in the Dead Zone, who mock us. At what point do they start to affect us?”

Thaddaeus noticed the irony in his sister’s rant.

“Emma, their energies are affecting you. Well, the worries you associate with them, anyway. Go; discharge your irritation in the corn field. It could use the boost. I’d send you to feed the electrical box, but you’ll blow a fuse. Let the wind dance in your hair. Cleanse yourself in the sun’s rays and remind yourself of what’s good. Remember, they are only Dead Ones because they’ve been misguided. They are Dead Ones because they live with minds closed, eyes wide shut. They’ve allowed others to do the thinking for them. But that can change. We must believe that.”

Emma looked at her brother. Why was it so hard to choose positive energies over anxiety? The copper haired woman lacked neither. Maybe they were calling it wrong the entire time? Maybe they weren’t Dead Ones, after all? Still, working in the Dead Zone day after day was taking its toll on her. She no longer wanted to be around any of them.

“Thad, maybe they aren’t dead, just dormant? I mean, if light is available to all then they aren’t dead, right? Just dormant. I mean, they can change, can’t they?”

Thaddaeus sat back in his chair and stared at the open jar of strawberry jam next to his plate. A ruby sliver clung to the side of the glass as a fly tucked into it.

“Please, Thad, tell me you believe they can change.”

by Julie

Terrible Minds readers, thanks for stopping by! Please wave and say “hi” and feel free to drop a link to your own stort. I’d love to read your flash fiction piece, too!

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This Flash Fiction challenge is from Chuck Wendig’s Terrible Minds blog.

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